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Castanon v. Cathey

United States District Court, W.D. Oklahoma

July 11, 2019

(1) KELLY CATHEY, an individual; (2) MIKE CORY, an individual; (3) RICHARD BICKLE, an individual; (4) DAVID MOORE, an individual; (5) DEBBIE SCHAUF, an individual; and (6) OKLAHOMA HORSE RACING COMMISSION, Defendants.



         EOS Trumpster, a quarter horse owned by Plaintiffs Mike Lee Castanon and Elite Oilfield Services, LLC, galloped to victory at the Remington Park Racetrack in Oklahoma City on April 8, 2017. But after the win, Trumpster's urine tested positive for trace amounts of Clenbuterol, a therapeutic medication barred for use on quarter horses. Citing this positive test, the Oklahoma Horse Racing Commission and the Remington Park race Stewards-together, the authorities overseeing and controlling horse racing-suspended the license of Trumpster's trainer, Alfredo Gomez, on April 21, 2017. One collateral consequence of Gomez's suspension: another of Plaintiffs' horses, EOS A Political Win, was scratched from a race on April 22, 2017, even though the horse had no reported drug violations. Plaintiffs claim that the actions of the Commission and the Stewards- especially the scratching of A Political Win-violated their rights. The movants (all Defendants, save Debbie Schauf) disagree, and they ask this Court to dismiss Plaintiffs' claims levied against them. Having considered the parties' filings, see Docs. 7, 9-10, the Court dismisses Plaintiffs' federal claims, declines to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over Plaintiffs' state law claims, and remands the remainder of the case to the District Court of Oklahoma County.

         I. Background

         The Court takes as true all well-pleaded factual allegations in the complaint, views them in the light most favorable to Plaintiffs, and draws from them all reasonable inferences in Plaintiffs' favor. See Burnett v. Mortg. Elec. Registration Sys., Inc., 706 F.3d 1231, 1235 (10th Cir. 2013). This case deals with horse racing in Oklahoma, so the Court will offer some legal context before it recites the facts. Oklahoma horse racing is governed by the Oklahoma Horse Racing Act (“Act”), 3A O.S. § 200 et seq., and attendant regulations.[1] The Act creates horse racing's governing body, the Oklahoma Horse Racing Commission (“Commission”), see 3A O.S. § 201, which enjoys “plenary power to promulgate rules and regulations for the forceful control of race meetings” in Oklahoma. Id. § 203.7; Okla. Admin. Code. § 325:1-1-3. These powers may also be delegated to Stewards, who directly oversee races. See 3A O.S. §§ 203.4, 204(B)(1); see also Okla. Admin. Code § 325:20-1-3. The Commission and Stewards, in exercising their broad powers, “may suspend or revoke any occupation license” for violations of statutory or regulatory provisions, or “[a]ny other just cause as determined by the Commission.” 3A O.S. § 204.2(D); see also id. § 204.3(B) (granting the Commission or the Stewards authority to “summarily suspend an occupation license” at a race “pending further proceedings”).[2] And, regarding medication of race horses, the Act prohibits “administration of any drug or medication to a horse prior to or during a horse race” unless permitted by rule. Id. § 208.11(C).

         Regulations further explicate the Stewards' powers. “The Stewards have general authority and supervision over all licensees, ” “the power to interpret the rules and to decide all questions not specifically covered by these rules, ” and “the power to determine all questions arising with reference to entries, eligibility and racing.” Okla. Admin. Code § 325:20-1-8. “The Stewards may . . . suspend . . . the occupation license of any person whom they have the authority to supervise, ” and they may also suspend a horse from participating in races if the horse is involved with “[a]ny violation of medication laws and rules” or “[a]ny suspension . . . of an occupation license . . . .” Id. § 325:1-1-7(a), (c)(2); see also id. § 325:15-5-10(a) (noting Stewards may suspend license for violations of “any provision of the Oklahoma Horse Racing Act or of the Rules and Regulations of the Commission, ” or for “any other valid ground or reason”). Specifically, Stewards may suspend trainers when the urine sample from a horse under their supervision tests positive for banned drugs or medications. See id. § 325:35-1-5(a) (“Should the chemical analysis, urine or otherwise, taken from a horse under his/her supervision show the presence of any drug or medication . . . it shall be taken as prima facie evidence that the same was administered by or with the knowledge of the Trainer . . . . At the discretion of the Stewards . . . the Trainer . . . may be . . . suspended . . . .” (emphasis added)); id. § 325:45-1-6(j) (“It shall be prima facie evidence that a horse had been administered and carried a drug [or] medication . . . prohibited by this Section while running a race if . . . a . . . urine . . . sample or specimen from the horse was taken . . . and . . . the Primary Laboratory detected a drug [or] medication . . . prohibited by or in excess of Commission-Sanctioned Threshold levels established by Commission Directive [3A:205.2(H)]. . . . The Affidavit submitted by the Primary Laboratory shall be supported by urine and/or plasma/serum results.”); see also Id. §§ 325:45-1-4, 325:45-1-5.

         Where a trainer is suspended or otherwise unavailable after a horse has been entered in a race, it falls within the Stewards' discretion whether to replace the trainer. See id. § 325:20-1-11(b) (“In the absence of the Trainer of the horse, the Stewards may place the horse in the temporary care of another Trainer of their selection . . . .”); id. § 325:25-1-3 (“All entries . . . are under the supervision of the Stewards . . . and they, without notice, may refuse . . . the transfer of entries.”); see also id. § 325:35-1-5 (designation of alternative trainer “shall be made prior to time of entry, unless otherwise approved by the Stewards”). Critically, a horse may not race unless it is under the care of a trainer in good standing. See id. § 325:25-1-10 (“[A] horse is ineligible to start in any race if . . . the horse is in the care of an unlicensed Trainer.”). “Any horse . . . ineligible to start in any race which is entered . . . may be scratched . . . .” Id. § 325:25-1-12.

         The suit's events take place within this context. Plaintiffs are owners of two racing quarter horses, EOS Trumpster (“Trumpster”) and EOS A Political Win (“A Political Win”). Doc. 1-1, at 7. The moving Defendants are (1) the Oklahoma Horse Racing Commission; (2) Kelly Cathey, the executive director of the Commission; (3) Mike Cory, the de facto Chief Steward at Remington Park Racetrack; (4) Richard Bickle, a race Steward; and (5) David Moore, a race Steward. See Doc. 1-1, at 2-3.[3] Plaintiffs entered Trumpster and A Political Win in races at the Remington Park Racetrack in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, in April 2017, retaining Alfredo Gomez, a Commission-licensed trainer and jockey, to care for and ride the horses. Id. On April 8, 2017, Gomez, riding Trumpster, won the seventh race at Remington Park; following the win, Trumpster submitted to post-race blood and urine testing. Id. Trumpster's testing samples were analyzed by the Industrial Laboratories Company, under contract with the Commission, on April 11, 2017. Id.[4] A final report was issued on April 20, 2017, which indicated that Trumpster's urine sample contained a trace positive of Clenbuterol, “a federally approved therapeutic medication . . . . widely utilized . . . for active horses.” Id. at 7-8. But under Oklahoma law, Clenbuterol use is banned in quarter horses, such as Trumpster.[5] Following the final report, the Commission, through Defendant Cory, “telephonically pronounced a summary suspension” of Gomez. Id. at 8. Gomez's occupation license was formally suspended by the Commission the next day-April 21, 2017-which caused all horses entered by Gomez to be scratched from upcoming races. Id. One of the scratched horses, A Political Win, had no reported positive drug tests, and was the “5/2 morning line favorite to win the Remington Park Futurity . . . scheduled . . . on April 22, 2017.” Id. at 9.[6] Plaintiffs made an emergency request for a stay of the Stewards' ruling, but the Commission's executive director, Defendant Cathey, denied the request. Moreover, the Commission and the Stewards refused Plaintiffs' request to transfer A Political Win to another trainer so that the horse could race. Id.

         Plaintiffs assert procedural and substantive due process claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against Defendants Cathey, Cory, Bickle, and Moore, and a negligence claim under the Oklahoma Governmental Tort Claims Act against the Commission. See Doc. 1-1, at 10- 16; see also Doc. 7.[7] Defendants move to dismiss these claims.

         II. Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6) Motion to Dismiss Standard

          “To survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to ‘state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)); see also Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(a)(2) (“A pleading that states a claim for relief must contain . . . a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief . . . .”). While a complaint “need only give the defendant fair notice of what the claim is and the grounds upon which it rests, ” Khalik v. United Air Lines, 671 F.3d 1188, 1191-92 (10th Cir. 2012) (ellipsis, internal quotation marks, and citations omitted), “[t]hreadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. “Thus, the mere metaphysical possibility that some plaintiff could prove some set of facts in support of the pleaded claims is insufficient; the complainant must give the court reason to believe that this plaintiff has a reasonable likelihood of mustering factual support for these claims.” Ridge at Red Hawk, L.L.C. v. Schneider, 493 F.3d 1174, 1177 (10th Cir. 2007) (emphasis omitted). When assessing a complaint's sufficiency, “courts must consider the complaint in its entirety, as well as other sources courts ordinarily examine when ruling on Rule 12(b)(6) motions to dismiss, in particular, documents incorporated into the complaint by reference, and matters of which a court may take judicial notice.” Tellabs, Inc. v. Makor Issues & Rights, Ltd., 551 U.S. 308, 322 (2007) (citing 5B Charles Alan Wright & Arthur R. Miller, Federal Practice and Procedure § 1357 (3d ed. 2004 and Supp. 2007)).

         III. Discussion

         Plaintiffs assert federal claims against Defendants Cathey, Cory, Bickle, and Moore-the individual Defendants-and state law claims against the Commission. See generally Doc. 1-1. The individual Defendants raise the defense of qualified immunity, which shields public officials sued in their individual capacities “from undue interference with their duties and from potentially disabling threats of liability.” Harlow v. Fitzgerald, 457 U.S. 800, 806 (1982). When this defense is raised, officials enjoy a presumption of immunity-as such immunity is “the norm in private actions against public officials.” Pahls v. Thomas, 718 F.3d 1210, 1227 (10th Cir. 2013) (internal quotation marks and citations omitted); see also Apodaca v. Raemisch, 864 F.3d 1071, 1076 (10th Cir. 2017) (“[Q]ualified immunity protects all officials except those who are plainly incompetent or those who knowingly violate the law.” (internal quotation marks and citation omitted)); Lewis v. Tripp, 604 F.3d 1221, 1230 (10th Cir. 2010) (“If qualified immunity is to mean anything, it must mean that public employees who are just doing their jobs are generally immune from suit.”). “A plaintiff can overcome this presumption of immunity only by carrying the heavy burden of showing both that (1) the defendant-officer in question violated one of his [statutory or] constitutional rights, and (2) the infringed right at issue was clearly established at the time of the allegedly unlawful activity . . . .” Kerns v. Bader, 663 F.3d 1173, 1180 (10th Cir. 2011) (citations omitted). The Court, in its discretion, may decide which prong of the qualified immunity analysis it will address first, see Pearson v. Callahan, 555 U.S. 223, 236 (2009), but addressing “the first qualified immunity [prong] before proceeding to the second . . . . should be the exception, not the rule, ” as constitutional avoidance considerations generally counsel in favor of “proceed[ing] directly to, . . . address[ing] only, and . . . deny[ing] relief exclusively based on” whether a right was clearly established. Kerns, 663 F.3d at 1181; see also Camreta v. Greene, 563 U.S. 692, 705 (2011) (“If prior case law has not clearly settled the right, and so given officials fair notice of it, the court can simply dismiss the claim for money damages. . . . And indeed, our usual adjudicatory rules suggest that a court should forbear resolving this issue.” (emphasis original)).

         A right is clearly established when a reasonable official would have understood that what he or she was doing violated that right. See Estate of Reat v. Rodriguez, 824 F.3d 960, 964-65 (10th Cir. 2016). Plaintiffs must identify clearly established law that would have notified Defendants that their actions were unlawful. See Washington v. Unified Gov't of Wyandotte Cty., 847 F.3d 1192, 1202 n.3 (10th Cir. 2017). Plaintiffs may show the law to be “clearly established” by citing an on-point Supreme Court or Tenth Circuit decision; alternatively, “the clearly established weight of authority from other courts must have found the law to be as . . . [P]laintiff[s] maintain[].” Grissom v. Roberts, 902 F.3d 1162, 1168 (10th Cir. 2018) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted). An “on-point decision” means that the precedent is “particularized to the facts”-that it “involves materially similar facts” to the case at hand. Apodaca, 864 F.3d at 1076 (10th Cir. 2017); see also Mullenix v. Luna, 136 S.Ct. 305, 308 (2015) (“The dispositive question is whether the violative nature of particular conduct is clearly established. This inquiry must be undertaken in light of the specific context of the case, not as a broad general proposition.” (emphasis, internal quotation marks, and citations omitted)). In other words, on-point precedent cannot define a right at “a high level of generality, ” Ashcroft v. al-Kidd, 563 U.S. 731, 742 (2011); otherwise, “Plaintiffs would be able to convert the rule of qualified immunity . . . into a rule of virtually unqualified liability simply by alleging violation of extremely abstract rights.” White v. Pauly, 137 S.Ct. 548, 552 (2017) (ellipsis original) (alterations, brackets, internal quotation marks, and citation omitted). Rather, “existing precedent must have placed the statutory or constitutional question beyond debate.” Kisela v. Hughes, 138 S.Ct. 1148, 1152 (2018) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted).[8]

         (A) Procedural Due Process

         Plaintiffs first claim that the individual Defendants deprived them of due process when infringing on their protected interests. Doc. 1-1, at 10-12. “The requirements of procedural due process apply only to the deprivation of interests encompassed by the Fourteenth Amendment's protection of liberty and property.” Bd. of Regents of State Colls. v. Roth, 408 U.S. 564, 569 (1972). Thus, “[t]o assess whether an individual was denied procedural due process, courts must engage in a two-step inquiry: (1) did the individual possess a protected interest such that the due process protections were applicable; and, if so, then (2) was the individual afforded an appropriate level of process.” Merrifield v. Bd. of Cty. Comm'rs for Cty. of Santa Fe, 654 F.3d 1073, 1078 (10th Cir. 2011) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted).

         “Liberty interests can either arise from the Constitution or be created by state law.” Cordova v. City of Albuquerque, 816 F.3d 645, 656-57 (10th Cir. 2016). “For state law to create a liberty interest, it must establish substantive predicates to govern official decisionmaking and mandate an outcome when relevant criteria have been met.” Elwell v. Byers, 699 F.3d 1208, 1214 (10th Cir. 2012). “If state law establishes a substantive predicate without mandating an outcome, the law creates nothing more than a right to process which is not a constitutionally cognizable liberty interest.” PJ ex rel. Jensen v. Wagner, 603 F.3d 1182, 1200 (10th Cir. 2010); see also Olim v. Wakinekona, 461 U.S. 238, 249 (1983) (“If the decisionmaker is not required to base its decisions on objective and defined criteria, but instead can deny the requested relief for any constitutionally permissible reason or for no reason at all, the State has not created a constitutionally protected ...

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